Connectivity is Key to Small Business Success
Customers and employees are typically the most important assets for small businesses, but for a growing number of companies, reliable and fast Internet access isn't far behind.
With cloud computing playing a larger role in the daily operations of most companies, and broadband phone service providing the company's communications backbone, many firms depend on their Internet connection to serve and find customers daily.
Understanding the Lingo
One of the first steps in signing up for reliable Internet access is to understand what you're buying. Internet access is typically offered by your local phone and cable TV firms, as well as specialized providers in some markets.
Most companies offering Internet service list a variety of packages at different speeds and prices. The paired numbers used to describe services refer to the download and upload speeds of your connection. Because more people download more data than upload it, the download "pipe" always has a faster speed.
A 25/10 connection, for example, means you can serve two users with average usage. A 75/15 connection, in contrast, is designed for more users or more intensive Internet applications.
What's the right speed for your needs? It depends on your business and how often you're online. Basic needs, such as email and light Web surfing, may mean a slower, less expensive connection is suitable for your business.
If, on the other hand, you use your broadband connection for your phone service, or take part in online conferences with customers or team members in different locations, a faster connection will pay for itself easily in increased productivity and, potentially, revenue.
As you evaluate vendors, it's also a good idea to see if your service package includes access to Wi-Fi hotspots if you're away from your workplace. If so, using public Wi-Fi can eliminate the need for a mobile hotspot or to use your smartphone or tablet to access data services while you're on the go.
More companies are using their Internet connections to provide the backbone for their phone service as well as their data needs. Known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), online calling offers a convenient and powerful alternative to traditional phone services.
In addition to avoid the need for expensive phone equipment, VoIP service allows small business to save long distance costs and to take advantage of advanced calling features that are offered as software-based services in most calling packages. Popular choices often include caller ID, three-way calling, find-me call forwarding, call recording, and other choices.
IP Security Services
As part of their efforts to distinguish themselves from competitors, many ISPs are offering additional services to their small business customers.
One of the most common and popular offerings is online security services. This may be a good option for small businesses that have any of the same security challenges as their larger counterparts, but often without the kinds of security expertise that large firms rely on.
Hosted security offerings typically include services such as anti-spam protection in which providers screen and block incoming messages based on what they say, where they have been sent from, how they are formatted, and other characteristics common among spammers. To reduce the risk of "false positives," providers offer access to blocked messages so you can check for important messages that were accidentally identified as spam.
Another common choice is antivirus services in which the provider defends your network and connected devices against malicious software such as viruses, bots and other online threats.
Backup services are another popular offering among small businesses. Everyone knows the importance of backing up the data on their networks and devices, but performing backups can be overlooked easily in the rush of daily activities.
Online backup programs automatically duplicate your data and upload it to a remote data center.
In most cases, data is encrypted to protect your information against unauthorized access. The fact that your provider's servers are often in a different geographic location than your workplace can provide important business continuity benefits if your primary location is affected by a natural disaster or a fire, or if important equipment is stolen from your workplace.
Although an initial online backup can take several days (or even a week) to complete, daily incremental backups are generally faster and easier then relying on traditional manual backups.
As with any technology tool, it's a good idea to periodically test your online backup to make sure it is operating properly, and that you are comfortable recovering files should the need arise.
Given the growing range of online services that can make running your small business easier, having a fast and reliable Internet connection provides an important foundation for your company's success.